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Smash Cut – Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

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benstein-expelled1.jpg

Back in November, I had the opportunity to screen an early cut of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed — Ben Stein’s documentary examining the issue of Intelligent Design, its relation to academia, and of the embargoes placed on the careers of educators who raise any questions regarding the strengths of Darwin’s popular theory.

At the time, everyone at the screening was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so I put any hope of posting a review out of my head for the time being. In January, I was fortunate enough to see the film again — a new cut this time, albeit still covered under the aforementioned NDA.

The NDA lifted several weeks ago, and by that time, the pages of notes I had taken at the second screening didn’t jive as well as they would have had I bothered to go ahead and write a review then. So, here are my thoughts, many weeks delayed…

Most people familiar with Ben Stein know of his erudite wit and expansive writing and teaching careers. He has, in his vast library of accomplishments, served as a lawyer, professor of economics, and as a presidential speech writer. But one of Stein’s lesser known attributes includes his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. His deep respect and admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. continues to compel him in every manner of his professional acumen, including this documentary, due in theaters this April.

The film’s thesis rests on one of the core foundational aspects of what Dr. King often called the “dream” of America. Part of the glory of America, the film states, is the freedom for anyone to believe anything he or she wishes without fear of reciprocation. Whenever the tenets of Darwinism have faced any significant challenge within the academic community, the film contends, voices of dissent find their mouths duct-taped shut.

Stein begins the film in a lecture hall, his trademark voice setting up the premise, intercut between various statements from personalities you come to know quite well over the next 90 minutes or so. The narrative launch pad picks up the story of Dr. Richard Von Sternberg, who in 2004 endured various kinds of persecution after publishing a paper for the Smithsonian Institution written by noted scientist Stephen Meyer.

Meyer’s paper essentially took a look under the hood of Darwinism, and suggested that the study of Intelligent Design (ID) had raised some very important questions. After its publication, Sternberg, having now earned the moniker of “intellectual terrorist” from some of his peers, eventually resigned his post, stating that he was told the Smithsonian would not seek to renew its relationship with him.

To address the assumption that this story represents a singular incident within scientific academia, the film spends some time with and lists name after name of highly credentialed scholars and scientists whose academic careers have faced significant obstacles for even mentioning that ID raises questions that Darwin’s theory has been unable, or is ill-equipped, to answer.

The majority of the narrative follows the news magazine/feature approach. Stein works fast through the material with enough good humor to make all of the science accessible to a general audience. The film’s use of metaphor and juxtaposition paint a clever presentation. Old archival footage of the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall sets up some of the more ominous pay offs later on. But Stein keeps the tone light at first, punctuating his points with quick anecdotes, old film clips and cheap animation. The effect works — one assertive visual involves popular scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins, and several million slot machines — and friends, Vegas never looked so good.

As the film throttles into its second act, the cultural implications of Darwin’s theory come under Stein’s radar, and the film takes a sharp turn toward the realm of the truly serious. The connection between Darwinism and Nazism — of particular interest to Stein, an orthodox Jew — brings this issue out from the walls of high science and into the pages of humanity’s recent photo albums.

The switch in tone here might turn some away; the implications presented are certainly worth exploring, and only a piece of a gargantuan puzzle. The segment, however, sets up an intentional reveal, demonstrated in the later comments of noted biologist P.Z. Myers. Here, Stein renders a haunting rhetorical correlation between the dark pasts of Germany’s Nazism, America’s own eugenics movement in the 1920s, and the ideological wall that separates the study of ID and Darwinism today.

In the closing acts, we’re led to a meeting between Stein, and one man who would personify the intensity, passion and determination of the scientific community’s assertion that Darwin’s theory marks the scientific and cultural benchmark for the belief of life’s origins: Richard Dawkins. And the resultant conversation becomes one of those rare remarkable moments that makes going to the movies special. I can’t give it away — it’s just best to let Dawkins explain it to you himself.

Stein’s film covers a wide breadth of scientific and cultural anthropology, centered on its central thesis that an ideological wall prevents scientists from questioning the status quo. The questioning of popular authority, the film concludes, finds allowance in every other sector of American dialog and exchange, except in the realm of science and academia.

To quote Stein, “people that are confident in their ideas are not afraid of criticism.” If Stein’s objective is merely to cast a light on a frightening facet of freedom’s suppression, then his success may have preceded the film’s release. Judging by the enormous, vitriolic response the film has already received — and demonstrated well in the comments of this post over at Looking Closer — the prospect of cracking this wall appears to riddle some with terrible dread. And that’s really too bad. Because the implications involved in denying freedom have only ever led to one end. Revolution.

(photo (c) Premise Media Group)

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Written by taj

March 25, 2008 at 5:39 pm

12 Responses

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  1. Ken Miller (a Christian and PhD biologist) shuts the premise of this movie down in 2 minutes and 23 seconds. This is also the same type of speach he used to win the trial in Dover over the teaching of evolution/ID. Please watch and be enlightened about the scientific process:

    ID should NOT get a free ride. If it is valid science then the researchers should go out and collect the emphirical data, publish their results, have them peer reviewed and critiqued and replicated. You see, this never happens with ID… you have to ask yourself why.

    How would you feel if I were to ask to teach your kids about Thor as an alternative to the evolution of species in biology class? You’d say, “That does’t make any sense… where’s your published, peer reviewed theory with backing evidence?”

    Also, ask yourself another question: What would ID look like in the classroom? Could you test it? Could it make predictions about mutations and the way species fill evolutionary niches? Is it backed by the fossil record? Is it backed by genetic evidence? If so, how?

    A quick google on “evolutionary biology research” will turn up THOUSANDS of peer reviewed papers, research papers, articles, etc with tons of detail about the research taking place. Do a search for “intelligent design research” and see if you can find anything scientifically sound. I just did that search and almost every page I open is simply “anti-evolution”, without an ounce of research supporting ID. Kinda makes you wonder, huh?

    Darron S

    March 26, 2008 at 8:14 am

  2. “The narrative launch pad picks up the story of Dr. Richard Von Sternberg, who in 2004 endured various kinds of persecution after publishing a paper for the Smithsonian Institution written by noted scientist Stephen Meyer.

    Please. That paper was withdrawn. Meyer is a noted scientist in his and your minds only. Sternberg ramrodded the paper through outside of normal review channels as his last official act as editor. He is an advisor to a bariminology group. He was a research associate, not an employee. He did not have a “position”. He met with Meyer a year or so before at an ID conference – a clear conflict of interest. And he seemed to have a big problem with properly caring for research materials entrusted to him. Boo-hoo. He lost his master key (which he shouldn’t have had in the first place) to the research area and some of his fellow researchers were mean to him. Sounds like a typical day on any job to me. He should have been persecuted more than he was.

    When these guys ain’t lying, their lips ain’t moving. You need to look into these claims a little more closely.

    scripto

    March 26, 2008 at 9:15 am

  3. Wow it’s always interesting to see how closed minded people can be when they don’t understand thing’s they turn to attacking it. I would love to see someone from the side of evolution explain how some of the smallest microbes that have been found to have complex systems for moving around could have evolved. But then I guess I’m not suprissed when they still thing we are descended from from an ape but can’t find the missing link. Could that be because there isn’t one, and they still can’t wrap their minds around the fact that there is a higher power who created each and every one of us. Who designed each part of each plant, animal and person down to the subatomic level. Oooo hold on that means they have to have faith, or at lest be able to see past the end of their own nose! and if they do that it could mean there is more out there that they can’t explain.

    ambri

    March 26, 2008 at 10:12 am

  4. I watched the Ken Miller video, and since Miller neither addresses the film, nor the issue of the ideological wall between the study of ID within the scientific community, I fail to see how he shuts down the premise of the film.

    Miller actually makes a number of fair points — all of which involve the teaching of ID in the classroom. Proponents of ID ought to go through the same peer review process as every other scientific study that has made its way into the classroom curricula. No one here has suggested otherwise. And certainly, neither has the film.

    taj

    March 26, 2008 at 10:44 am

  5. Travis,

    I am in the process of reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins for my Masters course and I am interested to see how Stein deals with Dawkins. Dawkins is so far out there and his arguments are shallow at best that I can imagine Stein has him for lunch. I cannot wait to see this.

    Mike

    Mike Collins

    March 26, 2008 at 2:16 pm

  6. “Proponents of ID ought to go through the same peer review process as every other scientific study that has made its way into the classroom curricula. No one here has suggested otherwise. And certainly, neither has the film.”

    They ought to but they don’t. Dembski doesn’t submit his work concerning information theory and specified complexity to those best suited to parse his obtuse and overly complex calculations, Behe doesn’t even bother to try to run the one test he proposed for the evolution of the flagellum during the Kitzmiller trial, Meyer ignored the latest work concerning the Cambrian explosion and Wells is stuck writing semi-popular works and publishing in a proto-creationist Italian journal. It’s not like these guys can wave around fistfulls of rejection slips. They don’t even try. Mainly because there is nothing specific enough to test. It’s just a PR campaign.

    scripto

    March 27, 2008 at 6:52 am

  7. Scripto,

    Thank you for your comments. You’re obviously well-read on the subject, and I appreciate your feedback and perspective.

    I’ve approached the film more in the role of a movie critic than anything else. As a film, it delivers its perspective well, but I am always interested in dialog and exchange. Peter (if you’re reading this), perhaps you can suggests some books for me when I see you next week.

    Is there anyone that might want to address this subject from the pro-ID side of things? Or anyone else who has seen the film in one of the preview screenings?

    taj

    March 27, 2008 at 10:06 am

  8. taj,

    Thanks for the soapbox. My film tastes run to lowbrow trash of all types and I am easily entertained. Expelled may or may not qualify. I’ll have to wangle one of those special invites or wait till it hits a big screen near me to find out for sure.

    scripto

    March 27, 2008 at 11:24 am

  9. See what happens when I don’t read your blog for two days, Travis??? 😛

    In any case, I have much to respond to here! I’ll start with Darron who said:

    ID should NOT get a free ride.

    And neither should Darwinism.


    If it is valid science then the researchers should go out and collect the emphirical data, publish their results, have them peer reviewed and critiqued and replicated. You see, this never happens with ID… you have to ask yourself why.

    A) This is equivalent to saying: “Science is whatever scientists say it is.”

    B) Something can be scientifically valid and yet false.

    C) Something can be true and not scientifically valid too.


    How would you feel if I were to ask to teach your kids about Thor as an alternative to the evolution of species in biology class?

    How would you feel if I were to ask to teach your kids about Thor as an alternative to flogiston in a chemistry class?

    Your question presupposes evolution is true, but that’s what the debate is about. You’re begging the question.


    Also, ask yourself another question: What would ID look like in the classroom? Could you test it?

    Suppose you find a dead body in a motel room. Can you tell whether or not an intelligent agent was involved in the death of that person?

    What? You mean forensic science deals with intelligent design aspects? How is that possible if ID has no grounding in science?


    Could it make predictions about mutations and the way species fill evolutionary niches?

    Again, you’re begging the question in assuming that species fill “evolutionary niches” in the first place. The question is meaningless if evolution is false.


    Is it backed by the fossil record?

    Gould had some interesting things to say about Darwinism when it came to the fossil record. I’d also suggest you read “In Search of Deep Time” by Gee.

    Both of those people are evolutionists, mind you.


    A quick google on “evolutionary biology research” will turn up THOUSANDS of peer reviewed papers, research papers, articles, etc with tons of detail about the research taking place.

    And a quick Google on “Paul is dead” will turn up THOUSANDS of pages dealing with Beatle conspiracy theories.

    Furthermore, no one is suggesting that scientists don’t believe in Darwinism. Of course they’re going to publish papers that agree with their positions. It’d be like checking a seminary library to see if they have papers on religion.

    But you can also find thousands of papers on theories that have been debunked. Just because something is peer reviewed doesn’t mean it’s true.


    Do a search for “intelligent design research” and see if you can find anything scientifically sound. I just did that search and almost every page I open is simply “anti-evolution”, without an ounce of research supporting ID. Kinda makes you wonder, huh?

    Not at all. This is simple an autobiographical claim. All you’ve told us is that you’ve not found anything convincing in ID, and that you don’t consider it scientific. To which I could respond with a healthy: so?

    CalvinDude

    March 28, 2008 at 11:00 am

  10. Travis said:

    Peter (if you’re reading this), perhaps you can suggests some books for me when I see you next week.

    I actually don’t read very many ID books. In fact, I think I can count them all on one hand: Darwin on Trial by Johnson, Darwin’s Black Box by Behe, Uncommon Dissent edited by Dembski, and I’m probably forgetting one or two. I am currently reading Nature’s Design by Denton, I believe (I left it at home so I can’t recheck either title or author and am too lazy to Google it), but I haven’t finished it at all.

    Instead of reading a lot of ID, I mostly read pro-Darwinian books and sit there going, “That’s an unfounded assertion; that’s begging the question; that’s a post hoc fallacy” through-out the whole thing. One of the most eggregious examples of it was in Mayr’s What Evolution Is where he said:


    The study of phylogeny is really a study of homologous characters. Since all members of a taxon must consist of the descendants of the nearest common ancestor, this common descent can be inferred only by the study of their homologous character. But how do we determine whether or not the characters of two species or higher taxa are homologous? We say that they are if they conform to the definition of homologous: A feature in two or more taxa is homologous when it is derrived from the same (or a corresponding) feature of their nearest common ancestor.

    (Mayr, Ernst. 2001. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books. p. 16, italics in original)

    This is a classic circular argument and a perfect illustration of begging the question:

    1) “[C]ommon descent can be inferred only by the study of their homologous character.”

    2) “A feature in two or more taxa is homologous when it is derrived from the same (or a corresponding) feature of their nearest common ancestor.”

    In other words:

    Common descent is demonstrated by homology which is demonstrated by common descent which is demonstrated by homology which is demonstrated by common descent which is….

    Frankly, in my opinion, when the “pro” side of the Darwinist debate argues so poorly there’s no reason for me to read the “con” side. 🙂

    CalvinDude

    March 28, 2008 at 11:50 am

  11. Wow!! Have you really tripped onto something?!? I admire Darron S and ambri’s stance on either side of the ontological fence. (I always use “ontological” when I scratch my head and think, “What is the word I want to put here.”) In fact, reading the comments is almost as good as the blog in the first place. I must make one small comment before moving on: I am an old man, perhaps set in my ways, perhaps with the tiniest bit of wisdom from my years, but to Darron S and to ambri, your arguments are so much more likely to be read and appreciated wtihout spelling errors. Sorry, I don’t mean to be unkind, but just making an observation.

    I confess to being a follower of Christ, a Bible scholar, perhaps; maybe even a theologian; one thing I certainly am not is a student of either Intelligent Design or Darwinism/evolution. However, I present this case only: Darwinism, for me, presents such a hopeless and dire circumstance. There seems nothing to life; live seventy or eighty years, die, and become fertilzer for those who follow. Maybe that is satisfactory for some. It is not for me. Nor do I wish it for my children or grandchild(ren), nor my friends, or family, or even those I do not yet know. Darwin’s seminal book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, does not offer me any hope, it does not explain to me how much things have changed since its debut. I would suggest to our friend, a Google search for “new species since 1900” just to be awed at all that has happened in that time. But that’s hardly the point.

    The question, it seems to me, is whether Intelligent Design should be allowed to be taught as an alternative to evolution, or, Darwinism, in school? If ID is as unscientific as claimed and if Darwinism so easily explains all that we need to know; I trust that children in school will quickly see the errors in ID and dismiss it. However, ID’s opponents choose to fight to keep from even giving it a chance. Perhaps there is some doubt as to the outcome of the debate when placed in the hands of children.

    I will now quit except to say: the proponents behind the teaching of Intelligent Design tend to be followers of Christ, members of that one tribe to which I belong as well. So, it is my wish to see the hope and promise of Christianity offered to all.

    CalvinDude, I don’t know you, but I certainly appreciated your comment.

    If anyone finds any misspelled words in my commetn, please realize that I am an old man.

    Ralph

    March 29, 2008 at 1:28 pm

  12. Responding to Ambri:
    “Wow it’s always interesting to see how closed minded people can be when they don’t understand thing’s they turn to attacking it. I would love to see someone from the side of evolution explain how some of the smallest microbes that have been found to have complex systems for moving around could have evolved.”

    If you would really love to see that, as you say, then go do some research.

    “But then I guess I’m not suprissed when they still thing we are descended from from an ape but can’t find the missing link.”

    This statement demonstrates clearly your lack of understanding of evolutionary theory. No offense, but anyone who says this shows that they have absolutely no idea what evolution really entails. If you must debate it, at least do so intelligently. I stand by my first reply…GO DO SOME RESEARCH.

    Here, I’ll even try to help you out. Here are some places to start (by no means should they be your only references):

    Visit Talk Origins (http://www.talkorigins.com)
    Read a basic evolutionary text (Evolution by Douglas Futuyma perhaps)
    Finding Darwin’s God also presents a good explanation of evolution and includes many summaries and references to different evidence

    “Could that be because there isn’t one, and they still can’t wrap their minds around the fact that there is a higher power who created each and every one of us. Who designed each part of each plant, animal and person down to the subatomic level. Oooo hold on that means they have to have faith, or at lest be able to see past the end of their own nose! and if they do that it could mean there is more out there that they can’t explain.”

    Has it ever occurred to you that you can actually believe in a higher power AND agree with evolutionary theory? It might be scoffed at by some, but regardless, it IS possible. Ironic how you referred to others as close-minded..

    airtightnoodle

    March 31, 2008 at 5:01 pm


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